After an impressive performance throughout the 2023 season, Red Bull encountered a significant setback during a recent race, failing to place on the podium for the first time since the 2018 Russian Grand Prix. Their unanticipated dip in form coincided with two distinct modifications in rules managerial by the Federation Internationale de l’Automobile (FIA), centering around flexible vehicle components.
The foremost adjustment, referenced as TD18, reinforced regulations regarding flexible wings, chiefly aiming to prevent teams from utilizing hidden movable mechanisms and innovative designs that revolve around the vehicle’s nose.
Meanwhile, an updated version of TD39, which was first implemented at the 2022 Canadian Grand Prix to squash the issue of ‘porpoising’, was also introduced. It disallowed teams from exploiting allowances relating to the flexibility of the floor in the vicinity of the skid block holes. It was believed that some teams were utilizing this loophole to draw their plank and floor nearer to the ground whilst moving at high speeds without degrading too much of the car’s integrity.
However, despite their coincidental timing, Red Bull is firm in dismissing these new rule clarifications as potential causes of their struggles. The Red Bull team boss, Christian Horner, insisted that their car underwent no changes as an effect of the new regulations from FIA.
When asked to elaborate on the factors which may have lead to the disappointing performance, Horner attributed the issues to engineering aspects and denied any dependency on the TDs, stating, “I know all of you would love to blame the TD, but unfortunately we can’t even blame that, because it’s not changed a single component on our car.” Elaborating on any alterations in component operation, Horner firmly responded with a “No, Zero.”
According to Horner, the team’s hurdles were not linked to the TDs, but more so to flawed vehicle setup which became evident in Friday practice. He confessed, “We knew coming here it would be expected to have closer competition. But I think it took us a bit by surprise, just how far out we were on Friday.”
The underwhelming performance was likely because the car wasn’t operating within the right bounds, especially during a single lap. Horner pointed towards errors during the pre-weekend simulation runs as a possible root cause, further complicated by changes to the track surface that impacted the circuit’s bumps and grip levels.
Further throwing a wrench into the team’s plans, was a last-minute decision to remove a new floor update during qualifying due to uncertainty over whether it may have been contributing to the performance issues.
Despite the setback, Horner found the experience valuable, stating that it gave them valuable insights for improving the RB20 model. The RB19‘s core strength, its consistency in different types of corners owing to its ability to maintain a stable aerodynamics platform at varying speeds, was affected negatively this time.
Red Bull‘s chief engineer, Paul Monaghan, reiterated the point, explaining how the failures during the Singapore race shed light on issues within the car, previously known only to the team. Although the car has some issues that couldn’t be fixed over a race weekend, the team learned valuable lessons they hope would assist them in the upcoming year. He ended on a positive note saying, “On we go.”